10 signs of aging, November is Senior Pet Health Month

How old is old? With the advent of nutritionally complete, commercially available diets and continual advances in veterinary care, the average pet life expectancy has increased during my lifetime — I remember when a dog was lucky to live past 10 years. Now, 10 to 13 years is a dog’s average lifespan. It’s 13 to 15 years for cats. We consider dogs and cats to be entering into senior citizen status by the time they’re 7 years old, and yes, it is true that larger breed dogs age much more quickly than smaller breeds, as a general rule.

While age itself is not a disease, “senescence” is real. Our parts deteriorate as time passes, and we begin to experience discomforts, malfunctions and the wear and tear of life. It’s inevitable. All animals experience senescence, some more rapidly than others.

1. Behavioral changes

Seeing a normally energetic, playful pet “slowing down” with age, developing a lackluster, lethargic attitude is always concerning. Unfortunately, mental dullness can be a feature of brain aging. Many older pets experience increasing somnolence. Sleeping soundly and for long periods isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it speaks well of the animal’s comfort levels, since pain or breathing problems can cause difficulty falling or staying asleep.

Pets suffering from dementia/senility may have their nights and days turned around — sleeping all day, but wandering restlessly and aimlessly through the night. Dementia in pets sometimes is mistaken for deafness or blindness.

2. Sensory loss

Visual and hearing acuity diminish with age, but some medical conditions can accelerate this — chronic ear infections or the development of cataracts being examples. Animals tend to cope well with gradual onset of sensory loss, provided they are in safe, predictable environments. Acute sensory loss, however, will cause dramatic changes in an animal’s well-being. It’s important to investigate any suspected sensory loss (gradual or acute,) as this can be an indicator of a serious, ongoing illness.

3. Bathroom habits

Increases in frequency of urination, amount of urine produced, and weakened urinary and anal sphincter muscle tone can make it easy for accidents to happen. Combine this with sleeping longer and deeper, dulled senses, mobility problems, and senility, and accidents become a regular thing.

4. Drinking problem

Increased thirst in an older pet is a sign of several potentially serious diseases. It is usually triggered by increased urination, not the other way around, and so it is very important NOT to limit access to clean water, as this can lead rapidly to dehydration. These patients need a medical workup.

5. Ups and downs

Weight changes are common as animals age. Any unexpected weight changes warrant concern.

6. Sloppy (and stinky) kisser

Halitosis is not only gross, it’s a sign of poor health. Since most pets don’t brush their teeth, bad breath is often a sign of dental disease, as are drooling, pawing at the mouth, swelling of the face and difficulty eating.

7. Rumpled and crumpled

Older pets that begin to look unkempt or disheveled, experience hair loss, develop ingrown toenails, or just plain stink — especially cats — need help. Bad skin in a normally healthy older patient is a sign of a decline in well-being and needs veterinary attention.

8. Creaky, crunchy, crotchety

Hesitation, followed by a deep breath before making the leap onto the furniture, into the vehicle, or up the stairs, walking stiffly, holding limbs in neutral positions when sitting (rather than folding the legs under) are signs of arthritic pain. Many dogs, particularly the working or sporting breeds, power through pain. Cats are just little fakers, and will not show signs of discomfort until they cannot pretend anymore. A cat or golden retriever that walks with a slow, stiff, deliberate, stilted gait is in pain until proven otherwise. A normally easygoing animal that is suddenly grumpy when touched is likely to be painful, too.

9. One lump or two … or more

Lumps happen. New, rapidly changing lumps should be checked by the veterinarian, especially on cats. The decision to remove and biopsy a lump early in its development may be life-saving.

10. Warty toad

Warts on toads are normal. Warts on dogs and cats, not so much. Fortunately, warts are ordinarily not a serious problem. They are small, hairless, typically pink skin growths, usually having an irregular, bumpy surface. Warts are generally caused by a papilloma virus, and can appear anywhere on the skin, and once one appears, others often follow. Most warts aren’t bothersome, unless they appear between the toes or on the face, ears, or other places that get in the way, which may necessitate removal.

What do you call a lumpy, stinky, warty, gimpy, skinny, grumpy, blind, deaf, slobbery, confused pet who soils his own pants regularly? Loved unconditionally, warts and all.


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